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United Pilots To Use iPads For Navigation 253

Posted by samzenpus
from the mid-air-update dept.
bonch writes "Pilots of United and Continental will ditch flight manuals and charts in favor of 11,000 iPads containing the same data in app form. Replacing 38 pounds of paper materials, the iPads will run an app called Mobile FliteDeck from Jeppesen, a provider of software navigation tools. Alaska Airlines adopted iPads back in May. United estimates a savings of 326,000 gallons of fuel a year due to the lighter load."
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United Pilots To Use iPads For Navigation

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  • Fuel Savings (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cforciea (1926392)

    United estimates a savings of 326,000 gallons of fuel a year due to the lighter load.

    And how many gallons of fuel a year are used making all of those 11,000 iPads and shipping them from China?

    • by idontgno (624372)

      None of United's, that's how many.

      Offloading costs onto someone else is a fine upstanding business cost-reduction strategy. I don't understand why you raise irrelevancies like this.

      Next, you're gonna insist that non-mandated "externalities" like pollution emission or local wildlife population impacts need to be factored into cost/benefit analyses. Sheesh.

      • Re:Fuel Savings (Score:4, Insightful)

        by gman003 (1693318) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @03:40PM (#37195206)

        Exactly. Besides, commercial shipping's quite likely to be via container ship, which is a much more efficient way than flying it.

        And when you factor in the environmental cost of the paper (which needs replacement every so often for updates or repair), it start to look like a relatively decent idea, ecologically.

        (Mostly commenting to undo a misclicked moderation, but there's my $0.02)

        • by narcc (412956)

          And when you factor in the environmental cost of the paper (which needs replacement every so often for updates or repair), it start to look like a relatively decent idea, ecologically.

          Because the iPad's are super-durable as compared to paper charts and won't even need repaired or replaced?

          • by gman003 (1693318)

            Well, when you need to update your charts every time a new airport opens, or closes, or adds a runway, I imagine it's a lot more cost-effective to make a software patch than it is to print out new chart pages.

      • by sjames (1099)

        The cost wasn't offloaded, they paid it as part of the price of the iPad.

        The carbon footprint is another matter, but in cases like this, I can believe it is a net win. It's not just the reduced fuel costs to carry the things, it's also the monetary and environment cost of printing and shipping updates periodically vs. just downloading.

        What I wonder is will the pilots have a working copy of the manuals if they have an in-flight incident involving extreme maneuvering and want to see what to do to limp to the

      • Meh! You say, "External diseconomy," and I say, "Net income."
      • by gad_zuki! (70830)

        Not to mention externalities like cost of maintaining & developing that massive flight app, tech support for these devices, maintenance and repair, charging schedules, theft costs, etc.

        Oh course, the people who managed the print edition can do some of this work, but imagine most of them will be let go and replaced with an ipad helpdesk and app development department as well as QA and all the management involved in making it all happen.

        I'm certainly not against progress, but there's a lot more here than

        • by narcc (412956)

          Heck, why not weigh me and charge me my cost by weight and the weight of my luggage.

          Sounds reasonable to me, I'd really enjoy the savings. Of course, I'm not a fat slob like the majority of my countrymen.

          Remember all the news stories about the fatties who whined and complained because the airline forced them to buy two seats because they couldn't squeeze their way into a normal-sized seat?

          Imagine the, slow, grunting, uprising -- it could get hilarious.

    • by Godai (104143) *

      Actually, I was thinking more directly than that. 11,000 iPads are -- without a volume discount (so its a high estmate) -- would be $5.5M roughly. 326,000 gallons fuel -- (if its the same fuel price as you find at the pump) would be roughly $1.1M. So while it might make a lot of sense long term, its going to take 5 years of fuel savings to recoup the investment in iPads. If jet fuel is more expensive than car fuel, it has to be 5x as expensive to make it worth it in a single year.

      • by sessamoid (165542)
        Jet fuel is comparable to gasoline in price. However there's more than just the jet fuel cost. The cost of printing 40 pounds of flight manuals and updates yearly and the manpower to make sure that the updated pages are put in every pilots flight manuals is not insubstantial, either.
      • Jet Fuel Price Monitor [iata.org]

        According to google's conversion (YMMV), 1 Oil Barrel = 42 gallons.

        $124.60/42 = 2.96 (which matches the cents/gal column. I wasn't sure if that's what it meant so I did it by hand, since I've never seen 'cents' abbreviated 'cts').

        Either way, the point is the same: it's cheaper than regular grade auto fuel by 17% (local prices as of yesterday).

      • by ZackSchil (560462)

        Jet fuel is about $3 per gallon.

        • by vlm (69642)

          Jet fuel is about $3 per gallon.

          Depends on your location and quantity. Last time I looked 100LL was like $5/gal in onesie twosie gallons from the local tiny airport FBO. I'm sure in tanker car loads direct from the refinery, you can pay $3 but not at the pump.

          • by i22y (10479)

            Airlines all have fuel arrangements with vendors for discounted fuel, but they're certainly paying more than $3 a gallon.

            At the pump, my local airport is currently charging nearly $7 a gallon in the NYC metro area for Jet-A.

          • by Jawnn (445279)
            Jet-A (especially at fleet prices) != 100LL. You do know this, right?
        • Where are you getting Jet-A for $3/gal? KACY has Jet-A for over $6/gal and KPTW has it for about $5.40.
      • by i22y (10479)

        Actually, I was thinking more directly than that. 11,000 iPads are -- without a volume discount (so its a high estmate) -- would be $5.5M roughly. 326,000 gallons fuel -- (if its the same fuel price as you find at the pump) would be roughly $1.1M. So while it might make a lot of sense long term, its going to take 5 years of fuel savings to recoup the investment in iPads. If jet fuel is more expensive than car fuel, it has to be 5x as expensive to make it worth it in a single year.

        They save not only the weight of the paper manuals (what the original fuel savings calculation references), but also the ability to roll out updates to all pilots quickly and cheaply. In addition, Jeppesen paper subscriptions are very expensive. Quite a bit cheaper on the iPad, yielding further savings.

      • So the iPad costs money to buy, but the paper maps don't?

        What about the logistics of printing 11,000 35lb paper map books, updating them periodically (presumably on an annual basis at least), and distributing them to their pilots. That all costs real money that would need to be included in the equation. Not saying it would necessarily work out to be break even year one, but I'd expect it to take only a year or two to pay for itself.
        • I don't like responding to my own post, but it turns out a later post answered the update question. It's monthly, but only the changed maps are updated. Currently pilots have to go through the paper binder, and swap the updated maps for the old maps.

          37195296 [slashdot.org]

          I'd be surprised if large corporate airlines didn't have someone who gets far less than a pilots salary that is responsible for updating the map books for the pilots. OTOH, if the pilots are responsible for their own map updates that's still a l
          • by Godai (104143) *

            No, I realize there were other factors involved. I considered the price of producing the maps but assumed it didn't add much to the comparison unless the maps cost a lot more than I assumed. I'm not really arguing against adopting iPads (or whatever handheld) I just took a little umbrage at the way they just threw in the "We save 326,000 gallons of fuel!" as if it was obviously a win. If they were talking 'save the planet', then I'd expect some idea of what % of overall consumption that constituted, so I as

      • Yea, but think about how much fun they will have playing Angry Birds in the toilet on the plane!
    • How much do you think it takes to ship the paper around? It doesn't materialize in the cockpit either, you know.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      On the other other hand, how often are the 38 pounds of paper manuals updated and re-printed?

      I saw Steve Martin's bluegrass concert the other night and he got some comedic mileage out of using an iPad for the set list. "And now for our next number, Angry Birds Level 7." Good show btw.

    • I was just about to ask if they're going to keep the original books on board. Because iPad batteries could fail suddenly. iPads could catch viruses. I remember when my Treo 650 that I was using as a GPS had it's battery crap out in the middle of an offroad rally. The backlight was flickering a bit earlier in the day but there was no other warning, the battery had suddenly swollen up and died. I was out in the middle of bumfuck nowhere late at night, off-route and completely lost, and my navigator was feelin

      • by vlm (69642)

        Yank the battery out, run it off an automotive charger. There exists a worldwide standard panel plug for intercom power, but I haven't been in the left seat of a (small) plane for 20 years, so I don't remember.

    • by Zcar (756484)
      Compared to all the flights the 11,000 will be making once they're in United's hands? Probably not even worth a footnote.
    • by alen (225700)

      from what i've read the paper manuals are updated every two weeks with a minimum of 3 sets per aircraft. now it's only going to be 1 set. that's a lot of money saved by going to ipad

    • by ehud42 (314607)

      before fussing about the 'cost' of delivering iPads. Are those 38 pounds actually noticeable? A 737 can weigh anywhere from 62,000lbs empty to over 175,000lbs. 38lbs is 0.06% of the total weight. Those savings will be lost in the noise. Are there statisticians (sp?) who would be willing to prove the money is actually be saved after the fact? I suspect it is just lost in the noise, and the real reason is more like convenience of use, updates, etc.

      • The savings won't be in the saved weight, but in the cost of printing and distributing updates, and in the timeliness of those updates.

        On the plus side, though. 38 pounds would make for quite the heavy anti-terrorist cockpit door lock
      • by vlm (69642)

        Are those 38 pounds actually noticeable?

        Yes. As a renter, I carried everything I needed in a bag. You'd notice a 38 pound laptop, right? Owner friends kept their charts in their planes. I don't know how airlines work. Since its the pilots responsibility to have charts, I'm not sure how you can, as a pilot, trust the cabin has what you need unless you carry it.

        My 152 and 172 rentals did not have the range for the coasts, or international, so I didn't carry the charts for, say, Hawaii. 38 pounds is a bit of an exaggeration, unless you have cr

    • by Tharsman (1364603)

      My guess is that it takes less gallons of fuel a y ear to bring those 11 iPads than it takes to cut down the trees that are then processed into paper, and produce the ink that is used to print said books, and then ship those books to the airports.

      If you going to nitpick, you have to nitpick all the way, in all directions.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Why would they give they shit?

      All they care is how much money do we save in fuel costs over the life of the devices versus how muhch do the iPads and software cost. And I can't see why you would expect them to care what the breakdown of the components/shipping/etc of iPad construction and delivery is.

  • Flight manuals and navigation charts from the AppStore? Because Apple doesn't allow in-app downloading of books from third party publishers.
    • by codegen (103601)
      I know you are trying to make a joke, but in-app downloading of books from third party is completely accepted. It is in-app purchase that causes a problem. You can buy the book on amazon.com and download it to the kindle app on ipad, you you just can buy it through the kindle app, or put the link in the kindle app. But you can have a bookmark in safari on the ipad and buy from amazon.com no problem.
      • by shugah (881805) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @03:55PM (#37195484)
        Pilot: What's the procedure for a hot restart on a PW4062A at 10,000m?

        Co-Pilot: Wait a minute, I just have to find where I downloaded that manual ... WTF? What's a mobi file and why can't my Kobo reader open it?

        Pilot (grabs iPad): You idiot! Just get the ePub version and use iBooks!

        Co-Pilot: Don't hold it that way it fucks up the antenna!

        Pilot: That's the iPhone4 not the iPad

        Co-Pilot: Oh yeah. Hey! where the hell are we?

        Pilot: How the fuck should I know, this is the WiFi version with no fucking GPS!
    • by i22y (10479)

      The apps are nothing new. ForeFlight and WingX are the two main products for general aviation.

    • by alen (225700)

      the are using a third party app from jeppesen. it works via subscription. thousands of professional apps have done this for years. you just can't subscribe from within the app or you have to pay apple 30%.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Flight manuals and navigation charts from the AppStore? Because Apple doesn't allow in-app downloading of books from third party publishers.

      Conceptual error of "ebook" vs pdf.

      I can and have downloaded individual charts in PDF format, for free, from about a zillion different online sites. Then load the PDF in cloudviewer, boot the gaming PC into xplane, and take off on a simulated flight... while holding full charts for my two airports.

      I don't know how well that scales to a full subscription of all the worlds charts, probably poorly. But I'm guessing you're thinking of buying the charts in the Kindle App (not even possible, I think?).

      • by dissy (172727)

        But I'm guessing you're thinking of buying the charts in the Kindle App (not even possible, I think?).

        Actually he's clearly thinking he is making a funny comment at Apples expense, nothing more.

        This is a single app in the app store, and of course it downloads the charts directly from them based on your serial number (Same account used as on the computer version.)

        More detailed info on this app is best gained from the people who make it.
        http://www.jeppesen.com/apps/mobilefd/index.jsp [jeppesen.com]

        Apple does not prevent apps from downloading data.
        The bullet point list of features for the app shows this is exactly what they

    • by Tharsman (1364603)

      Although I know you are just complaining about Apple's Walled Garden's policies, it is good to know a bit more about how they actually work.

      For instance, corporations just have to register for an Apple Corporate Development program to be able to do anything they want with their iPads without jail-breaking. They can even wirelessly distribute apps to all the devices they have approved and create apps that don't need to conform with Apple's infamous approval rules. They don't have to worry about undocumented

      • by Americano (920576)

        should they choose to, they can keep their pilots stocked with brand new pornography for every single flight!

        Copilot, take the controls, I need to get a little... 'stick time'.

  • Great, so now we can expect a Spinning Wing of Death when things go awry?
  • by ewg (158266) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @03:32PM (#37195078)

    The iPad is finally taking off.

  • Oh sure, that's fine as long as the plane has electricity, but what happens when it crashes on a desert island, and they only have 16 hours of battery life to repair the plane before the manuals become a really expensive paperweight.

    • by torqer (538711)

      ...

      If a plane were to crash on a deserted island I don't think a flight chart is going to make a difference.

      and I'm sure there would be more paper weights than just the ipad... besides, at least you could play some angry birds :)

    • Silly! With the manuals on the ipad, there is no need for paperweights.
  • by macemoneta (154740) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @03:38PM (#37195182) Homepage

    So, I guess the use of personal electronics is OK after all?

    • Nope, Same rules apply. No electronics below ten thousand feet for commercial aircraft. Affect in the pilots? Nil, since they're kinda busy from 0 to 10k anyway.

  • keep in mind that other than the LCD, most of that iPad is battery...

  • Thirty-two miles, begin your descent to...

    Recalculating...
  • by mdarksbane (587589) on Wednesday August 24, 2011 @03:45PM (#37195296)

    My father-in-law is an amateur pilot who recently explained the scale of this problem to me. It boggles the mind. He said that just in his once a month-or-so flights, he would make back the cost of the ipad over the course of a year, easily.

    Every plane has to have the maps and approaches for every airport on their route. But it's more than that. They also need all of the maps for every airport near their route, in case they have to do an emergency landing.

    There are a lot of little airports and lots of different approaches. The stack of charts for just the state of Ohio is at least a very thick binder. And, then if you want to fly a little farther on a trip, you get to buy all of those charts, too.

    But that's now where it gets complicated. These charts are updated monthly. And the updates are distributed as a "diff" - just the ones that have changed. So you have to go through your binder and replace every single page that's different. And sometimes you find out it was just a temporary change, and it's already changed back.

    It's really a big mess for an amateur pilot to take care of. The commercial airlines pay big money just to keep all of their charts in order every month... even though the vast majority of them are never even looked at by the pilots.

    So, provided that the battery life is good enough, this is a huge weight/headache/cost reducer for the airlines.

    • by mdf356 (774923)

      Admittedly it's been 20 years but my father is also an amateur pilot. I never flew outside of Ohio with him, but I recall only 1 map in the airplane, and no detailed info for any airport other than what that one map contained.

      • by Suzuran (163234)

        That one big map is called a sectional chart.
        What's on the iPad are approach plates, which are a completely different product.

        Sectional charts tell you how to get from airport A to airport B and what's in between to avoid or use as reference points.
        Approach plates are used by instrument-rated pilots to fly the approaches and departures for a given airport.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Admittedly it's been 20 years but my father is also an amateur pilot. I never flew outside of Ohio with him, but I recall only 1 map in the airplane, and no detailed info for any airport other than what that one map contained.

        FAA part 121 aka "so you wanna run an airline" is much stricter than just flyin around as a private pilot under part 91.

        Kind of like the difference between what a HAZMAT-CDL commercial truck driver has to put up with, vs joe random automobile driver.

        Any of the rules I remember about private pilots and charts are 20 years out of date. Are you my son? If so, WTF are you doing on /. get back to work.

    • by Beorytis (1014777)
      Funny that TFA made a bigger deal about fuel cost, clutter, etc., than the public safety benefit to real-time information.
    • by vlm (69642)

      They also need all of the maps for every airport near their route, in case they have to do an emergency landing.

      I see not much has changed in the 20 years since I flew a little 152.

      Note the critical difference between "need" as in an engineering or technical or real-world need, and "need" as in FAA regs plus pilot tradition say you really need to do this. You already have to listen to ATIS/AWOS to get the altimeter setting, and there is currently a service that digitally broadcasts weather info, and I'm surprised there's nothing out there broadcasting simple digital chart info. Maybe in 10 or 20 years...

      Its an inte

    • Every plane has to have the maps and approaches for every airport on their route. But it's more than that. They also need all of the maps for every airport near their route, in case they have to do an emergency landing...

      This sounds like instrument approach stuff. On every cross-country flight I've done I've taken my charts and airport sketches with frequencies and stuff (e.g. circuit patterns and altitudes). If I need to divert somewhere, I pull out the Canada Flight Supplement [navcanada.ca] and look up what I need.

      ...laura

    • by sjames (1099)

      New aircraft feature: cigarette lighter on the console! :-)

  • I'm in a college course for professional pilots, and iPad2s are required equipment, mainly (as it was explained to me) because of the charts.

    I'm no great fan of the iPads, but it's smaller, lighter, and easier to use inside a cockpit. Sounds like a plan to me.

  • Do they have to power them off at take-off and landing? If not, why do they make us do that?
    • by danlip (737336)

      I am sure putting them in airplane mod is safe enough. So why do they make passengers turn them off? Because it is hella hard to police a whole plane full of passengers and make sure everyone who is using their devices has them in airplane mode, and you can't really expect most passengers to be responsible. It's much easier to just look for anyone using a device. Of course just because they aren't using their devices doesn't mean they are off, but it's the best you can hope for.

    • by larkost (79011)

      Why do they make you turn off your random electronics during takeoff and landing? Well, because a slightly worn piece of electronics, especially ones with a nice wire acting as an antenna (you know, like the wire to your headphones) can suddenly become a transmitter, and since that transmitter is nearer to the plane's sensitive navigational instrumentation by a good deal, and wireless signals drop off on a cubic curve, that makes your accidental transmitter easily thousands of times louder to the instrument

  • Does this mean they will all turn them off during takeoff and landing, or is an iPad actually sitting in the cockpit next to the radio stack and other sensitive navigation equipment not as worrysome as one at the back of the plane near the restrooms?
  • I can imagine the announcement from the cockpit: "This is your captain speaking.We will be in a holding pattern for a little bit, while we deal with some minor technical issues. I expect we will be delayed about 1 hour into Chicago...By the way, does anybody on board have an iPad?"

  • The plane will definitely see some angry birds

  • Hope they remember to use Airplane Mode.

  • I can imagine it now [wordpress.com] ...

  • The article mentions real time info and updates which means using 3g most likely, but wasn't United one of the loudest in declaring wifi and 3g use unsafe for passengers to use because supposedly it could potentially interfere with flight controls? Wouldn't having them in direct contact with those instruments and controls be a bit bigger issue or were they just lying to make more money off of those back of the headrest phones?

  • If 38 pounds makes that large a difference, perhaps they should be promoting weight loss plans for their pilots as well. It'd be a two-fer: lower fuel bills AND lower insurance costs.

  • It's fun when you simply take on more debt. United owes 38 billion dollars, yet it absolutely MUST use iPads (and not some cheaper brand of tablet) to store its maps. Uh huh. Just issue more stock/bonds when you need more money, eh?

Machines certainly can solve problems, store information, correlate, and play games -- but not with pleasure. -- Leo Rosten

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